Recently we sat down with director Chris Roe to talk about his latest project, Cemetery Tales Presents: A Tale of Two Sisters (review), ahead of its premiere at this year’s Sitges Film Festival.
“With this first film I wanted to create something that was kind of an homage to 30s and 40s Hollywood,” says Roe of his objective with his debut directorial effort. “With that in mind, it became a matter of assembling the right crew and the right locations to make that work. Finding the proper location that we could use to make viewers believe was a home of that time period was a huge challenge. Of course we needed proper clothing, we needed the right cars, the right extras such as jewelry, cigarette lighters, ash trays, telephones, and so on and so forth. This was vital. If I couldn’t make the audience believe that they were indeed watching something from 1949, then I haven’t done my job. There’s a lot of attention to detail… I believe we used over 200 props to create this illusion, and that was a pretty crazy amount given that it was such a small shoot.”
One of the stellar things about A Tale of Two Sisters is its location and its transformation back to the golden days of Hollyweird.
“There was a lot to contend with aside from all that as well. Even though the mansion that we shot the movie in was old, there were a lot of modern updates to it. So we had to get creative,” Roe says with a laugh. “You know, you stick a statue where there’s an electrical outlet, a plant that would obscure a light switch plate, etc. Everything else we had to have digitally removed, and that proved to be costly, but again, if you’re selling this to be 1949, the audience shouldn’t be able to look around the room and see a modern air conditioning vent. All of those things had to be removed, and it wasn’t until we got into the editing room that we discovered, ‘Oh, my god! There’s a ton of these things!’ They were everywhere!”
“We shot in the former home of director James Whale, and one of the reasons that I had wanted to shoot there was… simply put… a thrill to be able to be in the home of the director who shot Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, and of course The Invisible Man. It was kind of like his presence was there. In fact, we even have a few photos of him that we scattered throughout the house! Not that anyone will notice, but he IS there! It was so much fun.”
Actress Traci Lords delivers a hell of a performance in the flick so we asked Roe to gives us some background on his casting choice.
“When I wrote this and I broke it all down, Traci was the first person that immediately came to mind. Traci is this really under-appreciated actress. There’s so much more to her than what she’s done in the past with comedy, etc. I watched this one film that she did about six or seven years ago called Excision, and I remembered her being able to go to places as an actress that you’ve really never seen her do. Emotionally she was able to do some really incredible things with that role, and I had never forgotten that. When we got down to writing A Tale of Two Sisters, Traci was the first one who came to mind. She pulls off her role flawlessly. It was almost as though we went back in time and found an actress from that time period and said, ‘Hey! Do this!’ She’s just perfect in it.”
“Cemetery Tales is something that I had come up with in 2010,” said Roe of the project’s genesis. “One of the privileges I’ve had from traveling both across the world and through a myriad of cities across America is that when I do have a little extra time, I like to visit local landmarks and go on tours. I had visited a couple of just beautiful old cemeteries here in the States and I came up with a few ideas… Originally these ideas were more geared toward a full-length film. I wrote them down, threw them in the folder, and that’s kinda where they stayed. Then I was in Scotland in 2012 for about eight weeks, and I spent a lot of time visiting the country’s many incredible cemeteries and going on ghost tours. That’s when I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute. This could be an incredible ongoing series. Every episode could take place in a different place or country from around the world. Every settlement has a cemetery.’ I mentioned the idea to George Romero, who was both a client and a very close friend. George loved the idea of it; he thought it was great. We chatted about it off and on for the last few years. I just never got around to doing it. Finally this year I decided to get going on this.”
“I think a lot of people were expecting my film set to be four, maybe five people at the most as far as the crew goes. That’s so typical for little indie film productions doing short films. It definitely wasn’t that. I had a crew of 15 people, all professionals in their various areas of expertise. I have long said that if you don’t have the money or the ability to do your project right, then don’t do it. Raise a little more money if you have to, but don’t jeopardize the quality of your production because you don’t have the proper people to do a great job. That includes your post-production personnel as well.”
Roe continues, “The exciting part of this project to me is actually kind of the film’s tagline… Every death has a story. There’s a lot of great stories to be told, and they don’t always have to be fictitious. If you watch ‘Forensic Files’ or any of those ID Network shows… there’s a wealth of stories to be told. Some are sad and tragic while others are laced with some forms of humor. Death is inevitable; we all have it coming to us at some point in our lives. Assembling the group of people to pull this off was also very exciting. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll never do another project without them. My producing and co-writing partner, Matt O’Neill, was fabulous. My director of photography, Alex Wysocki, was amazing. Alex and I shared the same vision for this project and worked beautifully together. My editor, Michael Bruining, really helped bring everything to life. We all saw everything the exact same way. Finally, my composer, Jonathan Hartman. He was the last person to be brought in, and when he read the script, he completely got it. He immediately started laying down ideas and captured the tone of what the story was about. This was such an amazing group of creatives. I cannot imagine ever working without them again. That’s a really good feeling because that’s how Romero worked. When George found a group of people that he enjoyed working with, he kept that team. Look at all the films of his through the 70s and 80s… he used the same people each time. Sometimes they performed different jobs, but he was loyal to his actors and his crew. I like that kind of environment. It’s great that you can work with people whom you also care about, and at the end of the day you also end up making some great friendships. If you can survive any film shoot and still remain friends with someone, they usually turn out to be a very good friend.”
“Another reason why I wanted to do this project was because as a talent manager, and I have been one for 22 years. I constantly get told that my clients are not right for various film jobs. So I wanted to be able to have the freedom to do a project where I could cast my own clients in the roles that I felt that they were able to do. Every actor in the film is a client of mine. That made it so much more fun and fulfilling.”
Finally, Roe reflects on his time spent with the legend himself, George A. Romero.
“It was very important to me to dedicate this project to George Romero because one thing that George always said to me throughout our friendship together was when you start a project, you have to finish it. If you started to write it, finish it. If you start shooting it, finish it. I started Cemetery Tales back seven years ago. It’s kind of had this… progression. When I mentioned it to George, he thought it was a great idea; and after his passing in July of 2017, I really started to think about… just… things that he had told me and the things that I had learned from him. I reflected on a lot of it. Come early this year I saw Cemetery Tales just sitting on my desk looking at me with George in the background saying in my head, ‘You know… you should probably finish this.’ It’s a great honor to be able to dedicate it to him, and in ways I felt like he was with me. We had a 15-year relationship… personal and business. He’s missed greatly, but he’s there with me.”
The film will be making its premiere at the 2018 Sitges Film Festival and stars Traci Lords, Bruce Davison, Michael Broderick, Ros Gentle, and Monte Markham.
Check out the poster, some insanely cool lobby cards, and the trailer below.
Set in 1949, a Hollywood star mourns the loss of her beloved sister on the one-year anniversary of her death. When the truth of her murder is revealed, a surprise visitor returns. Time is running out. Will justice be served? Tick tock, tick tock…